I took a trip to Reno, just so I could fly

Why Reno for the day? It turns out I have a hard time resisting JetBlue‘s $31 Halloween fare sales. And this year’s iteration allowed for travel on the surrounding dates, not just October 31st. I was going to be in Long Beach, CA with nothing firm on my agenda so the allure of a new route and some Halloween flying was too much to resist. Even if it was just to Reno.

Even after explaining (or trying to, anyways) my rationale to people the question kept coming back: Why Reno? What could possibly be interesting enough there to draw me in? Go to Tahoe, friends said. Get out of town and explore. Or simply don’t go at all. It is stuck in a time warp. Or is it??

I wanted the full “classic” Reno experience so I chose to stay in one of the classic casino hotels, Harrah’s. The room was surprisingly decent given its age (and the price paid), though hardly spectacular. But the hotel wasn’t my reason for being there. I wanted to explore a little, to see what life is like in town mid-afternoon, mid-week in the off-season.

A room at Harrah's in Reno. Old but clean enough.
A room at Harrah’s in Reno. Old but clean enough.

I walked from the airport to the hotel. The route is just over three miles, further than I generally venture from an airport by foot. But it gave me the opportunity to see some of the city, the classic buildings and businesses as well as the revitalization efforts underway.

Walking along Virginia Street through Midtown was particularly informing. The “main drag” still hosts a handful of classic motels and motor lodges from the city’s gambling heyday, replete with their neon signs. Alas, these properties now appear mostly used by semi-long term transients, not visitors to the Biggest Little City in the World.

Between the old motels, however, signs of revitalization sprouted up. New shops, brew-pubs and restaurants are trying to take root. Success is far from guaranteed, of course, but the city is trying.

I also discovered one of the local dining delicacies: An ice cream sandwich made with donuts rather than cookies. It was delicious, though challenging to eat without making a mess of myself.

Yes, that's an ice cream sandwich made from a chocolate glazed donut.
Yes, that’s an ice cream sandwich made from a chocolate glazed donut.

I continued my walk, ambling down some of the side streets and poking my head into the myriad alleys that help connect the city. And I found art. Lots of art. Pretty incredible amounts of art, truly. The City has invested in public displays but that’s not what surprised me. The outdoor murals were incredible.

The back sides of buildings all over town had great paintings on them. Some were old; likely dating back decades and showing the wear expected of such. Others were fresh, just days or weeks since completion. The Renaissance Hotel downtown hosts a wall on the back side of the building where it invites artists to produce a mural in an ever-updating display. This is something the city, its residents and its businesses are investing in. I’m a fan.

The above should (hopefully) should not come across as an unmitigated endorsement of the city. It has its challenges. There were a couple times on the relatively empty streets where I was keenly aware of who else was around me and considering what my response would be should they choose to engage. I never felt in danger, but the potential for bumping in to someone chemically stimulated and less than rational was very real.

Bright lights, little city!
Bright lights, little city!

With a relatively low cost of living the business of the area is shifting. First street, just north of the Truckee River, is now known as Startup Row. As the day shifted into evening evidence of that demographic shift became apparent. Restaurants filled up and the bars were lively. Reno is definitely changing, but the skyline remains dominated by the casinos. Even if the economy no longer is.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.